Last week I might have mentioned how much less stressful road trips are compared to travel by air. I think I pointed out how annoying long lines at TSA checkpoints can be, and how burdensome it is to haul carry-on baggage — camera and laptop — through an airport terminal.
I probably touched on the likelihood of at least one flight—either out or back — being delayed and the possibility of me arriving in Dallas and my luggage flying on to Albuquerque. I recall mentioning that flying is not as special as it used to be.
I meant all of that. But I woke up early last Friday morning, about 5 a.m., to get a head start on a winter storm boring down on the Mid-South. I should have rousted myself out about two hours earlier. By the time I had trudged through a sleet shower to my truck, tugged the iced-over doors open, scraped the windshield and headed out of the Memphis Hilton parking lot, rush-hour traffic had begun to clog up the routes out of the city.
Without the snow-covered roadways, I was looking at an eight-hour drive to Johnson City. I recalculated my ETA as I merged onto I-40 and sped northward at a brisk 40 miles per hour, steering wheel tightly clutched in my white-knuckled hands. I kept a respectable distance from any vehicle in front of me — about one football field. I occasionally crept up on travelers even slower than I was willing to travel and I made a cautious, well calculated move into the outside lane, into the newly-established ruts, and carefully pulled ahead of the slowpoke.
Oddly enough, traffic thinned considerably as I left Memphis proper. Even odder, I saw few vehicles straddling the medians, piled up in ditches or banged into other cars. Semi-trucks trudged through the ice, sleet, snow and slush, throwing up plumes of filthy slurry too thick for windshield wipers to manage.
Sleet and snow continued to fall, requiring constant use of the defrost — on high — turning the cab into a sauna. Without the heater, the windshield quickly iced over.
The farther I got away from Memphis, the lighter the traffic. I steered clear of semis, and maintained a constant speed, rarely pushing above 50. As I moved closer to Jackson, I was able to touch 60 on occasion, but began to notice more vehicles stranded in the median or stuck in the ditch. A few snow plows and sand trucks did their best to clear the roads. The sleet and snow continued.
I made it home in about 10 hours and wondered if flying might have been a better option, but probably not. I think the Memphis airport was socked in. It was a long day, but given the options, I still prefer that scenic drive.